Cuban Modern(e)

The Wolfsonian–Florida International University will exhibit the legacy of Cuban graphic designer, illustrator, publisher, and caricaturist Conrado Massaguer, a leading voice in shaping early 20th-century Cuban culture who was known for introducing art moderne to pre-Castro Cuba.

Influence and Impact

Cuban Caricature and Culture: The Art of Massaguer, opens on June 8, 2019 through February 2, 2020, presents selections from a new gift of Massaguer material from my co-author on Cuba Style and major collector Vicki Gold Levi in addition to loans and other Wolfsonian collection objects. Featuring magazine covers, advertisements, original paintings, rare sketches and personal letters, and caricatures of famous figures from Hollywood stars to royalty and presidents, the nearly 100 works on view call attention to Massaguer’s profound influence on design in both Cuba and the U.S. over his 40-year career.

Print, Conrado W. Massaguer, 1923 Conrado W. Massaguer (Cuban, 1889–1965), designer Offset lithograph The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised Gift of Vicki Gold Levi.

Drawing, Walt Disney, c. 1951 Conrado W. Massaguer (Cuban, 1889–1965) Ink on board The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised Gift of Vicki Gold Levi.

“Conrado Massaguer’s art left an indelible mark on Cuba, helping to define not only what Cubans considered ‘in vogue,’ but also informing day-to-day culture and politics,” said Frank Luca, Wolfsonian chief librarian and the installation’s curator. “Though he won his international acclaim a century ago, his style remains fresh and imaginative in a way that still feels incredibly modern to us today.

Boundless Geography

Born in the Cuban city of Cárdenas, Conrado Massaguer (1889–1965) was educated in both Cuba and America and frequently traveled back and forth, simultaneously building his reputation as a premier artist and art director in Havana and New York City. Over the course of four decades— and particularly during a brief exile in the U.S. during Gerardo Machado’s dictatorship— Massaguer became a prominent trendsetter in America by designing covers and illustrations for many of the leading magazines of the time, including Vanity Fair, Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, and Literary Digest.

While he took many cues from American publications and artists for these commissions, Massaguer put a distinctly Cuban stamp on a 1931 exhibition of his work at Delphic Studios, a New York gallery. There, Massaguer’s impressions of his native country were placed front and center, with a uniquely Cuban flavor evident in the style and themes is the culmination of twenty years of Gold Levi’s interest in Cuban memorabilia and photography and a capstone to almost two decades of Wolfsonian support and ongoing gifts.

Print, Allied Leaders at Gas Station, 1945 Conrado W. Massaguer (Cuban, 1889–1965), illustrator Offset lithograph. The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised Gift of Vicki Gold Levi.

Magazine cover, Social, April 1929 Conrado W. Massaguer (Cuban, 1889–1965), illustrator The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Vicki Gold Levi Collection.

Living Social

Back in his homeland, Massaguer likewise cemented his role in publishing by founding and art directing his own lifestyle magazine, Social, in which he nurtured the careers of numerous Cuban illustrators and caricaturists. From the 1920s into the 1950s, Social set the tone for Cuban values and taste, heavily publicizing the idea of the liberated and sexualized “new woman” (or flapper) and incorporating a bold Art Deco aesthetic.

Massaguer was also central to Cuba’s tourism campaigns, creating striking advertising art that packaged Cuba as a product and sought to lure Americans south through vibrant visions of a tropical playground. His status in Cuban society brought him in close proximity to foreign dignitaries, politicians, and visiting celebrities, many of whom he parodied in his signature, New Yorker-esque caricatures.

Conrado Massaguer was a leading voice in pre-Castro Cuban graphic arts.

Magazine clipping, Massa‐Girls: “Boy,” from Social, June 1926 Conrado W. Massaguer (Cuban, 1889–1965), illustrator The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised Gift of Vicki Gold Levi.

Conrado Massaguer was a leading voice in pre-Castro Cuban graphic arts.

Pamphlet, Come to Cuba, c. 1930 Conrado W. Massaguer (Cuban, 1889–1965), illustrator Cuban National Tourist Commission, Havana, publisher Sindicato de Artes Gráficos de la Habana, S.A., printer The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Vicki Gold Levi Collection, XC2016.01.1.1232.

Massaguer’s immense popularity is reflected in a robust market for fakes that Cuban Caricature and Culture will address through a counterfeit illustration of Albert Einstein. By displaying this fraudulent piece beside a genuine version, The Wolfsonian will reveal the forger’s tactics for, and missteps in, mimicking the designer’s trademark flair.

The installation coincides with the publication of Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure, American Seduction, a new companion book to a 2016 Wolfsonian exhibition of the same name also drawn from Vicki Gold Levi’s gifts, touching upon many of the groundbreaking works of Conrado Massaguer.

Conrado Massaguer was a leading voice in pre-Castro Cuban graphic arts.

Magazine illustration, Ellos: El Sabio Einstein, from Social, March 1931 Conrado W. Massaguer (Cuban, 1889–1965), illustrator The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised Gift of Vicki Gold Levi.

COMMENT